DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet says he will play a key role in the education reform effort mentioned by President Obama in his State of the Union address. He has an interesting perspective as a former superintendent and he sat down to talk about it with CBS4 political specialist Shaun Boyd.
Bennet has been on the receiving end of unfunded mandates and unnecessary red tape. He told Boyd he will take a completely different approach to reform. While it’s known education ebbs and flows as a priority in America, this year it may well be the one issue that holds the most promise for compromise.
At Force Elementary in Denver Bennet was in his element, and he’ll say it’s light years from the world he lives in most days.
“There is no place on planet farther away from where you and I are sitting right now than Capitol Hill,” Bennet told Boyd. “And there are days I want to beat my head against wall because of that.”
Bennet promises he will turn education reform upside down this year. And he has maybe an unlikely ally — Republican Sen. Lamar Alexandar, who was education secretary during the first Bush presidency.
“We agree on 96.5 percent of everything and rest is details,” Bennet said.
Bennet says their focus is on teachers — recruiting and retaining the best and brightest.
He’ll introduce a bill to support residency programs.
“Where teachers instead of spending time on college campus, (they) are actually spending time in a classroom with a master teacher learning how to teach.”
He’ll push for changes in the pay structure.
“Based on outcomes for kids; based on how hard their assignment is; based on whether or not they’re bringing a special set of skills in short supply like teaching math and science.”
And to keep good teachers he will write a bill that supports good principals and demands better training.
“It’s easy for people in Washington to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to turn around the bottom 5 percent of schools.’ But if you don’t have human capacity to actually do that, we’re going to fail.”
He said one young student told him she liked her new school, not because of better playgrounds, but because her new school taught her math facts.
“It’s about fulfilling the promise that this country really is the land of opportunity and the zip code you’re born into isn’t going to define the quality of the education we get and we have a lot of work to do to make it better.”
In addition to equity in teaching, Bennet will also introduce a bill to create equity in funding. The Fiscal Fairness Act will require districts to make sure resources are spread fairly among all schools.